HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - For this week's Money Saving Monday Report, we're hoping to help keep you connected to your money, while staying connected to the world.
We're talking about your smart phone and being smart about the costs of data plans.
WHNT NEWS 19's Beth Jett researched the topic after her nieces, 13-year-old Lauren and 12-year-old Anna, told her about their need for data plans for their cell phones.
Being a good Aunt, Beth looked up plans that don't cause you to lose reception in terms of your budget.
With 53% of cell phone customers using smart phones, many of them are getting a lot of static. Nationally, the Better Business Bureau reports the most consumer complaints they log are for problems with cell phones.
Consumers filed 39,000 complaints in 2012. A third of them were about billing, including "bill shock" from going over their data plan limits.
"There's certainly a lot of money that can be gained when someone goes over their normal plan," said Michele Mason of the North Alabama Better Business Bureau. "The plans are pretty competitive, but once you exceed usage somewhere, the rates can be quite a bit higher."
Mason says it's up to consumers to research what's out there and then keep a close eye on their actual data use.
Here are some options..
AT&T offers a tiered data plan for $20 a month for 300 megabytes of data up to $50 a month for 5 gigabytes of data.
Verizon has a "Share Everything" plan that allows up to 10 devices to share data from the same plan, up to 10 gigs for $100 per month.
T-Mobile and Sprint still offer unlimited data plan options.
Walmart touts an unlimited data plan for $45 a month. But further research shows they cap it at two gigs of data a month. If you use more than that, your bandwidth is throttled and your cell phone features slow down.
Another option is MetroPCS, a new company that promises unlimited phone service for $40 a month with no contract and no activation fee. But if you want to use features like texting, there's a $3 service cost per month and $5 a month for unlimited picturetalk.
The key to making any plan work is knowing what kind and how much data you actually use and there are several ways to track it.
"That's the great news," said Mason. "The tools are there if you'll use them."
She said due to recent changes in the law 97% of cell phone users now have access to warnings from providers of when they're nearing their data plan limits.
You can save your data by using Wi-Fi whenever possible. That's a free high-speed wireless connection available to you so you can avoid having to use your carrier's data network.
Experts say each year, people are paying for -- and wasting -- more than one billion dollars worth of data.
If you ask about the data plan you have, your carrier will check it out for you to make sure it's the right one you should have. Or, you can have it checked out by the company that runs SaveLoveGive.com.
They research your plan and come up with four recommendations for you to save using your carrier. Then, they give you the option of donating some of the money they found for you to save -- to a charitable organization.